Barbara Arnwine’s message on ending police terror, and fighting for civil rights and voting rights

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Feb 08, 2012 Barbara Arnwine’s message on ending police terror, and fighting for civil rights and voting rights

Each year, the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association and Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, Maryland, Bar Associations host a joint gathering during Black History Month at the Greenbelt federal courthouse. Beyond the sea of suits — mine included — greeting arrivals at these meetings in an expensive courthouse, came a great talk by Barbara Arnwine, who is Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a group that started after John F. Kennedy called upon the private bar to assist against racial discrimination, following the assassination of Medgar Evers, with Kennedy’s being assassinated only months later.  

I first learned about the Lawyers’ Committee when I was in law school, when Judith Winston of the Lawyers’ Committee came to speak, with my later serving on the local ACLU affiliate Board with Judy, followed by her, along with numerous other ACLU folks, joining the Clinton administration. At my first law firm, I became the liaison to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, which has ever since been headed by the dynamic Rod Boggs. (My great admiration for Rod does not change my strong opposing, on free expression and First Amendment grounds, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee’s suing the New York Times over printing housing advertisements — ads that I oppose — that only featured white models).

Barbara urged further progress with voting rights, which is covered on the Lawyers’ Committee’s website, and which issue also is covered in this New York Times article. She encouraged lawyers to help with a very time-manageable pro-bono opportunity for them, paralegals law students and activists to "serve as hotline call center volunteers on or before Election Day [and] participate in legal field deployments on Election Day to ensure the process is running properly." You can sign up here.

In a room that included several federal and county judges — who needed to hear about her following ordeal along with everyone else — Barbara spoke up about how an apparently warrantless three-hour early-morning gunpoint police invasion of her home last November changed her life and her view of the criminal justice system, and she "had serious issues before" (with the criminal justice system, I take it). She said the ordeal — which she recounts here on radio — changed her life, and that the incident terrorized her, by her own Prince George’s County police department. She said last month: "President Obama has heard about it and has e-mailed people asking ‘What in the world is this?’"

An ABA Journal report on the incident says: "Arnwine says police didn’t believe her when she identified herself as a lawyer, and they asked what law school she had attended. Arnwine is a Duke University law graduate. When she cited her Fourth Amendment rights, Arnwine says, one officer allegedly responded, ‘The Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply here.’"

Truth be told, the Fourth Amendment applies everywhere in the United States, at all times, and for all people. 

ADDENDUM: After uploading this blog entry, I found this ABA Journal article about a search warrant for Barbara Arnwine’s home in Upper Marlboro (the address thereon matches the address on this Huffington Post link), and an arrest warrant for her nephew. The question still remains whether there was probable cause to issue both warrants. Also, police mistreatment of Ms. Arwine, who has been charged with no crime at all, is deeply disturbing.

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